West Mitten waves hello in Monument Valley.
Legend has it that when John Wayne first strode into this sandstone landscape along the Utah-Arizona border to star in the 1939 classic western Stagecoach, he said, “So this is where God put the West.” That John Ford film put the red rock buttes of Monument Valley on the map as an iconic American backdrop; their images glow in more than 80 other movies, including The Searchers, Easy Rider, and Forrest Gump.
RESERVED The Navajo Nation maintains a 92,216-acre tribal park, the first in the country, within Monument Valley.
HIGH FIVES West Mitten is one of a pair of buttes regarded by some Navajo as the valley’s “great greeting hands.”
ON LOCATION Ford shot nine films, five with Wayne, in Monument Valley; a lookout point now bears his name.
FRAGILE ROCK The sandstone spire Totem Pole rises 726 feet from the desert floor but in spots is narrow as an elevator.
BOOM BOOM The area’s abundant uranium made it a busy place in the 1950s. It yielded some 8.7 million pounds of uranium oxide (“yellowcake”) before mining halted in 1969.
NAME GAME Monument Valley isn’t a valley at all; it’s a region of the Colorado Plateau.
Photography by Ron Niebrugge
This article was first published in July 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
For tour information, contact the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park at (435) 727-5870 or visit navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalley.htm.